Thousands of teachers took to the streets of Kentucky and Oklahoma on Monday, rallying in the latest show of force by angry United States educators demanding better pay and more funding for public schools. That's close to half of the 512 districts in the state. The strike followed legislative changes in teacher pensions.
Thousands of protesting teachers and their supporters, many of them bused in from across the state, filled the Capitol grounds in Oklahoma City and spilled over into the surrounding streets.
The measure was a "good first step", Alicia Priest, president of the Oklahoma Education Association (OEA) told the PBS NewsHour.
Spotting a large paper cutter next to a host of hole punches on a table in a state Senate hallway, Tabitha McClanahan joked to her fellow pre-kindergarten teacher, Rebekah Anderson, "Can we take this?"
It remains unclear how many districts will remain closed, or how many teachers will remain at the Capitol to advocate after Monday. The walkout is the first time many of Oklahoma's educators are on the front lines fighting for pay raises and money for their schools.
Monday's walkout and rally, which drew an estimated 30,000 people to the Capitol, is expected to continue Tuesday and possibly beyond.
Holding up a 12-year-old textbook held together with duct tape, Hope Davis, a 15-year-old sophomore from Moore, told the rally, "Funding education shouldn't be historic, it should be normal".
In Oklahoma City, teachers rallied for the cause and forced the closure of about 200 schools in the state.
Before last week, state lawmakers have not raised the minimum salary for teachers in a decade, making them among the worst paid in the nation. In 2016, the median household income in the state of Oklahoma was $48,038, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
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As Common Dreams has reported, Oklahoma is just one state where teachers have railed against poor funding and chronically low pay in recent weeks.
How is the state responding?
Last week, Gov. Mary Fallin signed HB1023XX into law, which is set to increase teacher pay by an average of about $6,100 starting in the 2018-2019 school year. Principals have said that filling some positions has become impossible, especially in rural communities.
"I think if you looked at these disproportionately female professions, like teaching, people have basically been exploited for years because they care about kids", said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, one of the unions representing the educators in West Virginia, which last month won a 5 percent pay increase. "I commend my teachers for the path they chose". There are champions for kids in schools and at the Capitol. "There's no supplies. Our schools don't have the funding". In Arizona, where teachers are considering a strike, average teacher pay ranks 43rd. Repeal of the hotel tax reduces the total package by about $45 million.
"It's these kinds of political stunts and years of irresponsible budgeting that got us in this mess to begin with", Priest said.In addition to reinstating the hotel tax, Priest said, two other revenue streams could be achieved by instituting a "ball and dice" tax on gambling and passing the capital gains tax break.
The chairman and CEO of energy giant Continental Resources knew that any new tax on energy production would need a three-fourths' supermajority in both houses of the legislature.
After the bill's passage last week, Republican Rep. Republicans hold 72 seats, so they need Democrats. "We were dejected and disheartened ... now I'm just angry".
Waynoka Public Schools Superintendent Scott Cline said his district also was open Monday as a result of the teachers' decision to send a small advocacy group to the Capitol, while the rest remained in the classroom.
The governor has not announced when or if he will sign the legislation. Numerous teachers also opposed potential new funding for charter schools that Bevin had pushed in his proposed budget.